Every four years, 2008 not excluded, there is enormous speculation over whether or not the youth vote will turn out. Next week, we will find out if either Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain has finally been successful in turning out us elusive 18- to 25-year olds. At UR, students have been registering other students to vote at concerts, political talks and lectures, as well as other on-campus events.
Yet I predict that these efforts will not be enough. That in 2008, as in every other election for the past several decades, the youth vote will remain unheard.
Older people will vote with a high degree of regularity, while we will continue to be a silent portion of the population and with good reason.
The elderly of this country have been given a reason to vote: Social Security and Medicare benefits guarantee their appearance at the polls every November.
Labor unions have been given a reason to vote: they want open-ballot elections to encourage more private sector workers to join.
Every candidate spoke to membership of the SEUI, ALF-CIO, IAFF; how many students at Hofstra University, Dartmouth College or St. Anselm got to meet the candidates who debated on their campus?
Gays want marriage or at least civil unions. They had an entire debate by the whole field of democratic candidates dedicated to their issues. Religious voters want a reversal of Roe v. Wade and intelligent design taught in schools. It seems like every constituency group has an issue that is being harped on by both parties as they pander for voters. But not for us.
Despite the work of hundreds of college presidents past and former the debate over the merits of lowering the drinking age hasn’t even been considered. The Amethyst Initiative has asked for ‘an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age,” but failed to elicit a response. Congress has taken up, with vigor, the issue of steroid use in professional sports and the problems it poses to the health of athletes, but concerns associated with binge drinking and drunk driving remain unattended.
The Recording Industry Association of America announced that it would target university and college campuses in an effort to curb illegal downloading. Nationally, they cited colleges as the source of 44 percent of illegal downloads in 2005, but they had to retract that statement because the actual figure is closer to 15 percent or relatively the same portion of the active computer-using population we make up. Nationally, college students don’t download music illegally any more frequently than anyone else. Rather than rush to our rescue and defend colleges and universities as an unfairly villainized portion of the population, Senator Harry Reid fought unsuccessfully this summer to require the ‘top 25 offending campuses” to install Internet-filtering systems.
The list of issues important to us that are left undiscussed by politicians goes on. Birth control sales at colleges have faced stricter and stricter limitations during the past several years. Oversight of college loan practices only became a topic of discussion after the New York Attorney General launched an investigation, the findings of which were that the Department of Education had failed to ‘pass adequate regulations.”
This year, as the costs of a college education continue to climb and the economy continues to fall, the budgets of state colleges will crash. After some of the worst weeks for the stock market in history, rumors circulated that state funding of public colleges could drop by 40 percent in some states. In the hours upon hours of coverage about the economic downturn, how many times did either McCain or Obama mention how it would affect public colleges? I understand that it wasn’t going to be the focus of their statements, but a mention would have been nice.
The youth vote will stop being a myth when the youth are engaged. The issues on both McCain’s and Obama’s Web sites have sections for targeted demographics, religious voters, women, veterans and seniors, yet neither has one for youth voters.
The majority of staffers on political campaigns are in their 20s. Online campaigning, which has been the single largest source of fundraising for political candidates, was pioneered by our generation. We are active but not engaged. Hopefully in the future we will have a candidate who is able to do that.
I am voting in this election. I vote in every election, from the presidential to the school board and even in primaries. Unfortunately, I don’t expect my peers to do the same. Blame for the phenomenon of our nonpresence at voting booths on Election Day rests with our political representatives. Appearing on the ‘Daily Show” or Facebook is not a legitimate attempt to woo youth voters. Making an effort to talk to and about us is.
Kirstein is a member of the class of 2009.